By: Caitlin Taylor
Sharri da Silva sits in her office chair and reaches for her coffee, “I’m just trying to wake myself up,” she says.
It’s a Monday morning and Da Silva is preparing for another busy day. On shelves behind her and to her left sits pictures of her grandkids (she has 10) and various greeting cards. On the top shelf is a white square canvas that has a quote on it about peace. On the wall behind Da Silva hangs a picture of a forest that seems to fit the mantra on the canvas board: “Peace. It does not mean to be in place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart,” it reads.
Da Silva is the Director of Volunteer Services at PeaceHealth Oregon West Network with more than 25 years of experience working in social justice oriented work.
“I love making a difference in the community. Working with volunteers to support vulnerable people, throughout the lifespan, is fulfilling and meaningful work,” she says.
In 1998, after her career as a child and family therapist at Looking Glass Counseling Center, Da Silva joined Relief Nursery as a program director. Relief Nursery is a nonprofit organization that is based in Eugene. According to it’s website, Relief Nursery a “non-profit child abuse and neglect prevention agency”.
Throughout her 13 years in the organization, Da Silva moved through many positions before eventually becoming a co-executive director of programs.
For Da Silva, her work with Relief Nursery went beyond the children affected. “Kids are a large piece of the concern,” she says, “but I want to work for, support and protect vulnerable people. And not just them but their families too.”
After her time at Relief Nursery, Da Silva decided that she wanted a change and the opportunity to try out a different career before retirement.
Da Silva doesn’t have a medical background but wanted to be involved in the health care industry. “There are limited opportunities for non-medical folk,” Da Silva says. But she was happy to find an opening for an executive leadership position, which, she says, is exactly what she needed to be able to leave Relief Nursery.
“I’d heard nothing but wonderful things about PeaceHealth,” she says. At PeaceHealth, a medical center that’s core values include respect, stewardship, collaboration and social justice, Da Silva is responsible for a program of 900-1000 volunteers and oversees two coordinators for the program.
“These volunteers fill important, and crucial, roles in the service we provide our patients and their families,” Da Silva says. “It’s all about how I can support them and get them what they need.” This includes developing and coordinating volunteer opportunities within the hospital and overseeing the volunteers’ progress and the service being provided.
There are many different facets of the volunteer program that Da Silva oversees but she is the specific contact for the Teen Volunteer program. The teen volunteers are high school students ages 15-18 who are stationed in three different areas of the hospital: central supply, the main lobby and in surgical services. These volunteers spend time cleaning, stocking supplies, greeting patients, delivering flowers and managing minor office duties. Da Silva interviews and trains the teens who are interested in volunteering.
Da Silva is the “big oversight” for other programs like the college student volunteers who are pursuing medical careers, volunteers who do pet therapy, or are musicians and adult volunteers as well.
Karen Jones has worked with Da Silva for over a year at PeaceHealth and has observed her work. “Not often do we have a touchy situation that arises but when it does, Sharri approaches the person with love, respect and [is] able to resolve the issue,” Jones says.
When it comes to rewards, Da Silva finds the work she does fulfilling and well worth her time. “These people are coming in here to provide service with huge open hearts,” she says.
Moving forward, Da Silva hopes that the volunteer program continues to grow and that they can develop more opportunities for volunteers. In the past year alone, the teen program has more than doubled. This year, the program offers volunteer opportunities in both the Urgent Care and the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, which added an additional 37 teen volunteers to the program.
Da Silva splits her time, outside of work, reading, crocheting and going on long walks with her friends. She also has four kids and 10, mentioned above, grandkids whose ages span from 14 to 21. Seven of her grandkids live in the area and three live in Texas.
To add to her workload, Da Silva is Chair of the Lane County Commission on Children and Families as well as a member of four other local organizations, including Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Legislative Committee and the Fetal/Infant Mortality Review Team.
Diana Avery, the Senior Program Services Coordinator for the Lane County Commission on Children and Families describes Da Silva as “someone with high integrity, vision and wisdom; Someone not afraid to get in there and work for change and improvements”.
According to Avery, Da Silva is more than just talk. “Sharri has a great deal of passion for her community and she walks that talk constantly,” she says.
Da Silva’s true passion lies with volunteer work and human rights. “For me, it’s knowing that I’ve made a difference everyday in the lives of kids and their families,” she says.